High on the list of conventions to which serious attention has to be paid is that which deals with hosting and visiting. Social functions in which people eat together are recommended.
Arab and Middle Easterners are famous for their generous hospitableness. They might even be made at a place of work, not just at someone’s home.
In the working out of community life, some visits are obligatory. A refusal to receive visitors is unthinkable, while to fail to make an obligatory visit threatens the fabric of life in an extended family.
The importance of hosting or visiting lies not just in the need that it occur, but in the manner in which it is carried out. For them, there’s nothing like a ‘visit’ to get the batteries recharged!
From the first moment of greeting, to the order of seating and the words used to punctuate the visit, an elaborate game of ‘host and guest’ is often played out. God again features strongly in the reciprocated well-wishing.
In Arab homes, guests are always anticipated. Poor people will put themselves in debt to family, friends or a local shop to feed a guest with food that celebrates by its quality the honour of the visitor.
It is significant that in Genesis 18, the meal which Abraham prepared for his otherworldly visitors is described in greater detail than the conversation which ensued between the patriarch and the Lord! At the time of the event itself, Abraham’s generosity led the Lord to share with His human host His intended action in Sodom.
In traditional rural areas, an entire village feels judged by its ability to host strangers and visitors. Jesus’ parable about prayer makes its point from the unstated but known assumptions about village hospitality. Jesus began the parable with the words —
“Suppose you went to a friend’s house …” – Luke 11:5
None of the disciples had a friend in their home village who would not offer the needed loaves of bread – it would be unthinkable in a culture in which hosting or visiting was such an important theme.
For disciples on the road, involved in itinerant evangelism, Jesus tells them —
“Whenever you enter a city or village, search for a worthy person and stay in his home until you leave town.” Matthew 10:11
They are to make that person’s home their home for the duration of the visit. Their activities are thus considerably legitimised in the eyes of the other inhabitants.
A reputation for being hospitable is important to an Arab. The only way to convince such hosts of being satisfied is by leaving food on the plate.
What messages do Western Christian witnesses convey, perhaps quite unwittingly, in the way that this important theme of hosting and visiting is ignored? No wonder Westerners find it difficult to understand some of Jesus’ stories which hinge around assumptions closer to Arab’s ideals in hosting and visiting!